Still only 20 years old, Arnau Martínez has already racked up 97 appearances for Girona FC and successfully moved from centre-back to right-back.
Without a doubt, one of the breakout stars of the 2022/23 LaLiga Santander season was Arnau Martínez, the youngster who dominated the right flank for Girona FC as the Catalan club finished 10th in their first year back in the top flight. Arnau’s reward for this stellar season has been included on the list of candidates for the 2023 Golden Boy award and a spot in the Spain squad for the European Under-21 Championship.
Although he only just turned 20 years of age in April, Arnau has already made 97 appearances for Girona FC, the club where he has taken his first steps as a professional footballer. After debuting aged 17 in 2020/21, when Los Blanquivermells were competing at the LaLiga SmartBank level, Arnau became a regular starter by the 2021/22 season, which ended with him scoring a decisive goal in the promotion playoffs final. After moving up to LaLiga Santander, the youngster demonstrated that he belongs at the top level.
Born just outside Barcelona in Premiá de Dalt, Arnau spent time in FC Barcelona’s La Masia academy between the ages of seven and 13, even playing in the same team as Alejandro Balde, another of the best full-backs of 2022/23. He later moved to CE L’Hospitalet and then to Girona FC’s academy, playing as centre-back throughout his youth career, rather than at right-back, his current position.
As he explained in an interview with Diario AS: “I played centre-back all my life, except for when I played for my local club as a striker when I was a young kid. When I arrived at Barça, they put me in central defence. Then, when I arrived at Girona FC, I also started as a centre-back in a three-man defence, but when Míchel joined he moved me to full-back. Personally, I prefer the full-back position. You can get forward and play more in the other area, which is what everyone likes to do. Still, I have no issue playing at centre-back.”
It cannot be understated just how impressive it is that Arnau has managed to change position at the same time as adapting to senior football. When Míchel took over at the Estadi Montilivi in the summer of 2021, Arnau had just 20 senior appearances to his name and had never played a top-level match at right-back. But, Míchel identified his potential, as the Catalan footballer is just as skilled in attack as he is in defence.
Míchel’s faith in Arnau’s ability to adapt has more than paid off. Over the past two seasons, Arnau has been one of the most versatile players in Spanish professional football, demonstrating an ability to dribble past opponents, thread the ball through tight spaces in the final third, organise the team positionally and use his pace to get back and defend even the most skilful attackers. He can score too and found the back of the net with all three of his shots on target during the 2022/23 LaLiga Santander season.
When he was growing up and supporting FC Barcelona, one of Arnau’s favourite players was Javier Mascherano, precisely because the Argentine displayed such admirable versatility. Now, it’s Arnau who is catching the eye because of what he has been able to achieve in a position he only moved to two summers ago.
Several of Europe’s biggest clubs have Arnau on their radar, while the voters of Tuttosport’s prestigious Golden Boy award have taken note of the right-back’s performances too, naming him on the shortlist for the 2023 edition of the award. As he plays at the European Under-21 Championship this summer, and as he looks to pick up where he left off last season when LaLiga resumes in August, Arnau Martínez will have further opportunities to impress those voters.